Mar 09, 2020 08:00am
Is it Ever OK to Pull the Plug?

There are a growing number of people who are getting on the bandwagon to endorse euthanasia.  

Euthanasia may be defined as, “The deliberate killing of a person suffering from an illness believed to be terminal.”  Today, euthanasia has been prostituted to mean, “The right to administer death to those whose lives do not measure up to the standard others have set” and is better known by its sanitized name, “mercy killing.” 

A.J. Levinson, executive director of Concerned for the Dying (a pro-euthanasia group), said the reason for the groundswell of support for euthanasia is because many people have had an agonizing experience with a loved one where death has been prolonged artificially by medical technology and this has created a reaction that insists on the right to end life artificially.

Scientists and engineers continue to invent technology and no one is laying a moral foundation for its use.  

This is creating, and will to continue to create, ethical problems for our society. Our unofficial motto is: “If we have the technology, let’s use it.” 

I don’t agree with that philosophy. 

Technology is allowing man the opportunity to play the role of God.  

Our technology has made it possible to almost defy death. We can hook up a body to one machine after another that can replace its failing systems and force it to continue to “live.”  Kidney machines, pacemakers, chemotherapy, respirators, spinal shunts and even medication to manage pain – all these things can, in one case, sustain life, and in another, prolong death.  

Initially, these “miracle” machines were intended to prolong life. But now it appears the “miracle” machines, when connected to a dying person, prolong suffering and death indefinitely.  

I would like to share with you six thoughts I hope will give you some guidelines in dealing with the issues of life and death:

  1. God gives wisdom for the use of medical technology. 

It should be simple – God gives life, God takes life away, and there’s a line between the two. 

But where is the line?  

Why would we sustain the life of one and quit dragging out the death of another?  

Every situation is different and every person is unique. So, when it comes to the “pulling the plug” question, don’t waste your time looking for a tidy list of rules. 

The fact that God does not give us explicit directions in the life-support dilemma does not mean He has abandoned us. He has given us revelation concerning the sanctity of life in His Word and from these principles we can deduce a proper moral course of action. He has also given to us the Holy Spirit who lives within our hearts and guides us in the search for truth.  God has promised to give wisdom to those who ask Him for it:

“If any of you does not know how to meet a particular problem he has only to ask God…and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him. But he must ask in sincere faith without any secret doubts.”(James 1:5)  

I firmly believe God has allowed mankind to develop scientific technolo­gy. Therefore, medical technology is a gift from God, and it is to be used as a trust from God and not as an end in itself. 

If God provides man with the ability to develop medical technology, He will also provide the wisdom to make deci­sions.

Dr. Max Harry Well has developed what he calls the “Three R’s” for determining what to do when a loved one is critically ill.  He asks three questions:

  • Is it Rational?  

Does the treatment make sense? Will it help the patient get well or ease their pain?  

If the treatment or procedure does not have a strong chance of helping the patient, then it should not be used.  

If the treatment is consid­ered experimental, you are not morally obligated to use it.  

  • Is it Redeeming?  

Will this procedure cause the patient more pain and suffering than the benefit it will provide? We must never let the end justify the means.

  • Is it Respectful?  

What we do with and for a person must reflect what that person would want. All too often families and physicians assume they must make a massive assault on a dying body. The reason they feel this way is that they are afraid of dealing with the guilt of “giving up.”  

We must treat patients as people and provide them with the re­spect. Since the dignity of a person comes from God, we honor that dignity by allowing them to live and die according to their own sense of God’s priorities for their lives.

Any time we decide a patient requires a life-support system, we are admitting the body cannot live on its own. 

If the patient expects to temporarily use a life-support system because its use provides a reasonable hope of recovery, then I would strongly urge the patient to use such technology.  

If it is prolonging death, I might consider not using such technology.  

  1.  We can be certain of the moment of death.

In 1981, the President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research drafted a “Uniform Determination of Death Act.”  

According to their definition, death now means either:  

  • Irreversible cessation of circulatory and respira­tory functions.
  • Irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem.

For the first time since we began hooking people to machines, we can now positively determine whether we are keeping a person alive or just the body functioning.  

For those who are concerned with our moral responsibility to protect the sanctity of life, this is a most welcomed breakthrough.  

We now have CT scans, Pulsed Doppler Ultrasounds (PDU), Positron Emission Tomographics (PET), and Glucose Metabolic Rates which all can help determine with 100% accuracy if there is a person alive within a body.  

We need no longer worry about “pulling the plug” too soon.

When brain death occurs, there is no hope of reviving it. It is that moment when the soul is released from the body and the person ceases to exist. Then, the plug can be pulled to allow the bodily remains to expire

  • The Bible endorses the use of medicines to alleviate pain. 

Solomon wrote:

“Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remem­ber their misery no more” (Proverbs 31:6-7).

Even though the Bible condemns strong drink as a beverage that causes drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18), it is recommended for those who are dying to relieve them of their suffering.  

In Solomon’s day, there were no miracle drugs that would relieve pain and suffering so alcohol was recommended as a painkiller. Today, we have the benefit of literally hundreds of drugs to ease pain and suffering.  

I am recommending we use the prescription painkillers and not alcohol.  

Solomon was recommending those in misery not be killed but given whatever might ease their pain and I believe we should do the same today. 

We should make those who are suffering as comfortable as possible.

  • Whatever decision we make must be made out of a pure heart

Scripture underscores that suffering people should have every access to the means of God’s grace.  

God demands we examine our motives in whatever decision we make. Scripture requires nothing less than a righteous heart (Matthew 5:8).  

There may be times when someone may secretly want a loved one to die in order to relive the family’s suffering, or for economic consider­ations, and if this is true it is wrong!

  • Seek wise counsel. 

The Bible clearly teaches, “safety is found in the abundance of counselors” (Numbers 35:30).  I have found the key in making good decisions is in having good information. 

Help in decision-making is as close as your doctor, family or clergy.

  • We are not morally required to use extraordi­nary means to save a life. 

Gerald Kelley, a Roman Catholic ethicist, wrote:

“Ordinary means are all those medicines, treat­ments, and opera­tions, which offer a reason­able hope of benefit and which can be obtained and used without excessive expense, pain, or other inconvenience.   

Extraordinary means are all medicines, treat­ments, and operations, which cannot be ob­tained or used without excessive pain, or other inconvenience, or which, if used, would not offer a reasonable hope of benefit.”

Using Kelley’s definition, it is understood that “ordinary means” are morally obligatory while “extraordinary means” are not. 

This distinction reminds the decision makers of the need to take all factors into account, not merely the medical ones. For example, a respirator might be “ordinary” under some circumstances, and “extraordinary” in others. 

In conclusion, let me suggest some guidelines as to when to connect or disconnect an individual from a life-sustaining machine:

  • The disease must be irreversible. No one should be allowed to die if we have the means at hand to save his life.
  • The patient has veto power. If the patient is conscious and rational, then he has the veto power over any decision to extend or not to extend his life by artificial means. If he has a living will, this must be respected. 
  • If the patient cannot make the decisions for them­selves, others should make it for them. The Bible says there is wisdom in joint decisions (Proverbs 24:6).  Since there are spiri­tual, legal, moral and family implications in­volved in this decision, it seems wise to consider all the aspect. 

In an article entitled “On Ending Life,” published in Criticism magazine, James Childress said, “Even if death need not be welcomed, it need not always be opposed. But to stop the battle does not mean to abandon the patient or to cease caring for the patient. Caring continues even when the patient is allowed to.”

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